Israel, and especially Jerusalem, is one of the most religious areas in the world with a big portion of the population focused on religious studying as their daily work. Still, it is the country to have most Nasdaq-listed companies outside of US. How is it possible to have 66 listed companies from a country of 8 million people? Let’s have a look at the different players of the Jerusalem startup scene.
Our first destination in Jerusalem was SifTech located in the JVP Media Center. They are a non-profit aiming to create an entrepreneurial ecosystem and a vibrant startup scene in Jerusalem. Being started in 2012 by the student union of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem it reminded us a lot of AaltoES. They have three graduated rounds of startups in the accelerator program by now and are headed towards a more and more professional direction.
SifTech is one of the ways how Jerusalem tries to attract young talent and also make sure they have job opportunities in the city after graduating. As our hosts started to talk about plans of increased multidisciplinary cooperation among the different Jerusalem universities it turned out that our experiences from Aalto came in very handy. We reminded them that things on university level don’t change fast and there is a big difference between “top down” and “bottom up” approach. In the end we took a mandatory selfie in their cool meeting room :)
We then met with Uri Adoni, a partner at JVP, Jerusalem Venture Partners, which is one of the most successful Venture Capital companies in the world. He explained us about how the culture and the local market affect the companies.
Three key points how the culture affects the companies:
– 1. Challenge the authority. Israeli people love to argue, push limits and disagree with the authorities. They are not afraid of bringing their opinions up and
– 2. Solve the mission. People are creative and want to get things done fast. They are not necessarily doing things exactly as meant in the first place, but they do them fast and aim to answer the core problem.
– 3. Directly to global markets. Israeli market is seen small and incoherent and the startups don’t see it as a possibility to stay in the home country. They do everything with a target to enter global markets, starting from the North America.
After visiting JVP we headed to see a startup company that sounded extremely interesting: Orcam, producing camera glasses aiding visually impaired people. The glasses have a camera that recognizes objects in front of the person wearing the glasses and they are then described via small speaker to the user. All image recognition is processed in small computer that user is wearing on their waist.
To be honest, seeing the product itself in use was even more amazing than it sounds. Major breakthrough of the company is bringing the product the ability to contextualize everything it sees. In effect this means that if the glasses see a magazine, it begins to read it out loud, whereas when seeing a one dollar bill, it will simply announce “one dollar”.
Naturally we began immediately comparing Orcam to startups we find in Finland. Strategy-wise the most notable difference is one we keep on noticing in every company we visit here: Orcam set immediately to completely global markets. They screened numerous countries (Finland among them), and right now they are pumping the products to American market. Unfortunately, such an explosive foreign market strategy is almost unheard of in Finnish startup scene.
Another noteworthy thing is the futuristic technology and hardcore software developed behind the product. It has been taken 3 years to build the capability of contextualization, and the product really is high tech. The idea of startup at the very tip of technological development is really intriguing, as in Finland the technological R&D is still carried mostly by big corporations.
After these high-tech visits, we took direction towards the Old Town, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Western Wall and all the ancient places almost next to the vibrant startup ecosystem. The city is truly full of opposites.
Henri, Mea & Pyry